The French and Russian revolutions gave rise to a rich literature about the stages of revolution. Not surprisingly, there is considerable argument about what happened in each stage, and when each revolution ended and a stable regime appeared. Truth be said, history never stops. There is always another stage in a country''s development.
The American war of independence is not universally viewed as a revolution, insofar as it lacked mass bloodshed among the residents of what became the United States, or a change in the social classes ruling the country. The property losses, dislocations, and deaths of loyalists were small change compared to what happened in France and Russia. However, things were not settled until the adoption of the Constitution 16 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, or perhaps until after the Civil War and its great bloodshed 80 years after the Declaration.
Those expecting a quick fix to the upsets in the Middle East should contemplate the French, Russian, and American cases. Two items that will not add to one''s optimism, but are worth reading for what is better analysis than is coming out of the Obama administration are from The Economist and Asia Times.
At this point, we should concede that we don''t know if the Arab revolutions will get anywhere beyond a change in national leaderships, and if one or another will be closer to the French, Russian, or American models.
Islam is one factor likely to be important in current events that was missing from those earlier changes.
That is not to say that we should expect a simple take over by the maddest of the mullahs. There is substantial antipathy against religious rule among non-mullahs who want to rule their countries. Among them, military officers are more powerful and better organized than other contenders.
But this is not to say that we should expect a simple take over by the armies.
Rather, we should recognize that the easiest part of a revolution is deposing existing people at the very top. The hard parts appear when one or another of the contending groups muscle its way among competitors who also want to replace the previous rulers. See the link above that describes those already competing with one another for their share in Libya.
Stability is not likely to come quickly, which is another way of say that another revolutionary stage is likely to follow the first, then the second, and so on.
Given the nature of Islam and the politics associated with it, one can expect that democracy is the least likely of results we should expect from changes currently underway. Also unlikely is government by liberal intellectuals who will work to establish the social and educational infrastructures of democracy. Better to bet on military officers, Islamic clerics, or something close to the current elites who will change the people at the very top, institute changes that they call reform, and use the powers of entrenched bureaucracies to keep the people from demanding more.
We call bureaucracies entrenched because they are essential to stability and seldom change. Note what happened when the allies sought to democratize Germany and Japan after World War II. Most of the school teachers, police, judges, and other functionaries who served during the war kept their jobs.
There would appear to be no greater folly than to expect movement on Israel and Palestine in the near future. Where are the moderate Arab governments that have been expected to support Palestine and to urge flexibility on them? The list has included Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Morocco and Tunis. All of them are either deep in their own chaos, or doing what they can to keep demonstrations from threatening their regimes.
It is common for the international and Israeli left to accuse the Netanyahu government of being dead set against the concessions necessary to make peace. But what if the prime minister offered a package similar to Ehud Barak''s proposal, with the endorsement of President Bill Clinton in 2000, or what Ehud Olmert offered in 2008? Both received quick rejections from Palestinian leaders. Even quicker was the rejection when Binyamin Netanyahu mooted the possibility of a partial settlement last week.
If there was ever a time when Palestinians might have dared to depart significantly from their demands of 1967 borders and the return of refugees, this does not seem to be it. With the masses clamoring from change across the Arab world, and willing to kill and die as in Libya, the always shaky regime of the West Bank is not about to risk its future.
Commentators who set themselves apart from the conventional wisdom wonder why Palestine is such a darling of the international community. It is not the area that suffers the most from poverty or repression. Maybe it is because Israel is perceived as the decisive power most likely to cave under international persuasion and pressure. If that is the reason, the international consensus has not noticed that left, centrist, and rightist governments have not moved significantly beyond what has never been close enough to Palestinian demands.
More persuasion or more pressure on Israel?
Hope springs eternal. It is easier than the hard work that begins with reality.